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The Tree of Healing
March 7, 1993

JOHN 9:1-41

Wanda, a former parishioner who lives near Chicago, began having severe headaches. Several doctors told her it was psychosomatic; it was in her head! Of course it was in her head! But, she persisted, and it was finally diagnosed as a tumor on the brain. The C word--cancer--frightened her as it does us all. She began notifying friends asking for prayer. Her church and prayer groups began praying for her. The day before her surgery, Wanda experienced a terrible headache. Afterwards she said it was as if Dr. Jesus were in her brain with a scissors cutting the tentacles of the tumor away from the brain. Indeed, when the surgeon operated he found the tumor already severed from the brain. Its many tentacles were no longer attached to the brain. The incident happened 18 years ago. Today Wanda is still teaching school; alive and well.

The Tree of Life is our theme this Lent. The Tree of Life, an ancient belief in a magical tree that gives immortality to all who eat of its fruit, is symbolic of our relationship with God. The Genesis account of the Garden of Eden rejected the myth and affirmed that true life comes from our relationship with God, a relationship which includes wisdom, knowledge, beauty, compassion, and healing. Today we look at healing.

Some of us have difficulty accepting the credibility of Wanda's brain tumor being healed through prayer. Some of us have difficulty believing the Scripture lesson today where Jesus healed a man blind from birth by spreading mud on the man's eyes. We have difficulty because we have been conditioned by a scientific world view that separates material from spiritual. Only what can be seen, touched, and smelled is real, we have been taught.

We have scheduled a weekend retreat after Easter where we will seriously challenge this antiquated world view and begin developing a world view that is both biblical and scientifically up-to-date.

The biblical world view does not separate matter from spirit. In the New Testament salvation, the living relationship with a personal God, includes the physical. The root of the word healing in New Testament Greek, sozo, is the same as that of salvation and wholeness. The new Book of Worship of the United Methodist Church offers liturgy for Healing services and prayers for healing. The introduction states, "Spiritual healing is God's work of offering persons balance, harmony, and wholeness of body, mind, spirit, and relationships through confession, forgiveness, and reconciliation."

All healing comes from God, the ultimate healer. Spiritual healing is not in opposition to, but in cooperation doctors, counselors, therapists, etc. Spiritual healing does not necessarily compensate for the failure to take proper care of one's health, physical and mental. We should not expect God in a matter of moments to undo a lifetime of physical and mental abuse some people inflict on themselves.

Likewise, God does not promise that we will be cured of all illness. And, it is most certain that all of us will eventually die. God does not promise that we shall be spared suffering, but God does promise to be with us in our suffering. Many, because of their illness, have experienced a new depth in their relationship with God; they have experienced God's sustaining, enduring, encouraging, and loving presence in pain, sickness, injury, and estrangement.

However, the fact of illness does not limit God from hearing our prayers for healing and answering them, as Jesus healed the blind man, and as God healed Wanda's tumor. Can prayer change things? Sometimes we hear people say, "Prayer does not change things but changes the one who is praying, giving insight and patience." That certainly is sometimes the case, but is God so limited? Can't God heal a tumor? We are expected to pray for healing. Sometimes the answer is, "No, not what you are asking; but I will be with you in your suffering." But, sometimes the answer is a resounding, "Yes! Be healed."

How does God heal? Certainly through modern medicine and therapy, but also and uniquely through ancient, time-honored and validated , and biblically instituted means such as Holy Communion, laying on of hands, and anointing with oil. Last week I had a full body massage. In case you've noticed how mellow I am becoming, it's probably because of the massage. In massage both laying on of hands and anointing with oil are used. I suppose its called lotion, but it has the qualities and function of healing oil.

In our monthly healing services, we use the ancient method of laying on of hands, believing in the power of touch. We also hold hands at the close of our worship service, both for the blessing and the singing of shalom, as we offer one another blessing and God's peace through our hands, the healing touch.

Today we celebrate Holy Communion, which is an act of healing that is solely unique to the church. Eating feasts with family and friends is certainly healing, but eating together in God's family gathered at the Communion table is a unique experience, because Christ is present. Our spiritual ancestors believed that the bread and wine actually becomes the body and blood of Christ, the physical becomes the spiritual. On our Transformation Retreat, Bob Hamerton-Kelly will help us explore what this ancient theology might mean for us today. What Communion has meant to countless Christians through the ages is that Christ can be experienced in a healing, saving, reconciling way that is not experienced anywhere else. You can be healed. Your life can be transformed. You can find reconciliation. You can discover how loved you are, by opening your mouth, mind and heart to Christ in the healing sacrament of Holy Communion.

© 1993 Douglas I. Norris